E-Sports Is the New Premed

Students at one of the largest U.S. universities have video games on the brain during lectures. But it’s not a distraction, because gaming is actually part of the class.

The Ohio State University recently announced an e-sports program for the upcoming fall semester that includes courses about coaching e-sports teams, marketing video games, and managing the business side of gaming. There’s also a new major: a bachelor of science in game design and e-sports.

Bloody shooter games like Call of Duty are a long way from traditional college subjects such as literature or chemistry. But with billions of dollars invested in video games, plus the huge money that fans splurge on game-related merchandise, careers in e-sports are booming.

As a result, colleges are increasingly adding classes that are focused on e-sports, or the competitive side of video gaming. For example, in recent years, both the University of California at Irvine and Lambton College in Sarnia, Ontario, introduced e-sports certificate programs, a step short of a full degree.

What sets Ohio State apart, other than its new e-sports focus, is its size—the school has 60,000 students—and its success in athletics like football. Other schools will inevitably take notice and introduce their own e-sports programs, predicts Nyle Sky Kauweloa, an assistant instructor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa whose Ph.D. research includes e‑sports.

“It’s a significant move,” he says.

Before creating its e-sports program, Ohio State sought input from administrators and faculty across several departments. They brainstormed about which classes to offer and what they hoped students would ultimately learn, eventually settling on a general outline.

“We all had the same idea about what we wanted from this program,” says Deborah M. Grzybowski, codirector of game studies and e-sports curriculum development at the university and an associate professor in engineering education.

Ohio State has already debuted three undergraduate e-sports courses. Ten more classes are planned for the fall, along with an e-sports arena that will seat 80 for the school’s existing competitive e-sports team and for recreational play.

Although Ohio State’s e-sports program has yet to start in earnest, interest is already high, Grzybowski says. A number of students and parents have contacted the school about it, but it’s too soon to know how many people will ultimately enroll.

At the start of the current school year at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, around 45 students enrolled in an e-sports class, more than the 10 or 12 that had been expected, Kauweloa says. Based on its success, the school is now considering adding more e‑sports courses.

Still, Kauweloa advised schools to think things over carefully before creating their own e-sports programs.

“What works in Ohio is not always going to work for us at U.H. or work for a school in New York,” he says. “This is the Wild Wild West.”

A version of this article appears in the February 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “E-Sports Is the New Premed.”

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